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Democracy promotion bill draws SBC entity’s support

WASHINGTON (BP)–The Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy entity has endorsed legislation designed to expand democracy globally through various State Department channels.

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission called for passage of the Advance Democratic Values, Address Non-democratic Countries and Enhance (ADVANCE) Democracy Act. The bill would confirm that an essential ingredient of America’s foreign policy is the promotion of freedom and human rights, as well as support for democracy movements in totalitarian states.

Among its other provisions, the ADVANCE Democracy Act would:

— Create an Office of Democracy Movements and Transitions in the State Department and an advisory board of external experts to provide counsel and to study the effectiveness of U.S. democratic assistance.

— Establish the position of under secretary for global affairs with the assignment of advancing liberty and add democracy promotion to the responsibilities of the assistant secretary for democracy, human rights and labor.

— Mandate an annual report on democracy from the secretary of State.

— Encourage U.S. ambassadors in non-democratic countries to promote liberty, meet with representatives of democratic movements and speak out on democracy and human rights.

The ERLC’s Barrett Duke called the ADVANCE Democracy Act an “exciting piece of legislation that will change the world.”

“We who have been blessed to live in this great nation owe it to those who struggle under dictators to help them devise a democratic government for themselves,” said Duke, the ERLC’s vice president for public policy and research. “Those who are courageous enough to speak up and to work to establish democracy in their countries should be encouraged and assisted by those who enjoy and cherish the blessing of democracy.”

Duke said he is grateful for the bill’s “peaceful promotion” of democracy movements. “It will bring the great energy and non-military resources of the United States to the aid of those who long for democracy in their own nations,” he said.

Sens. John McCain, R.-Ariz., and Joseph Lieberman, D.-Ct., are the lead sponsors of the Senate version, which is S. 516. Reps. Frank Wolf, R.-Va., and Tom Lantos, D.-Calif., are the coauthors in the House of Representatives, where the bill is H.R. 1133.

“I firmly believe that we must be a country which sides with the oppressed, not the oppressors,” Wolf said in a written release. “As free people, this is our moral responsibility.”

Citing the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, the bill’s sponsors said the proposal will aid U.S. security.

“In the last few years, we have seen all too clearly how the lack of democracy can create safe havens for nihilistic forces that do not value human life, and this can help extremism flourish,” Lantos said. “We must find new ways to fan the embers of freedom everywhere.”

The legislation echoes the theme of President Bush’s second inauguration speech in January in which he said American policy is “to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.”

“The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands,” Bush said. “The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.”

The ERLC has become more involved in the arena of international human rights in recent years. ERLC President Richard Land served three years on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom during Bush’s first term. Land’s time on the panel is considered a prime reason for the ERLC’s higher profile on the issue.

“I pray for the day when there is not a single person anywhere on the face of the earth who must suffer under a dictator’s heavy boot,” the ERLC’s Duke said. “The ADVANCE Act will help to make God’s great gift of liberty a reality for millions of oppressed people around the world.”